After cinematography studies in Leningrad, Robertas Verba (1932–1994) worked for a while as a fiction film camera cinematographer in the Film Studio of what was then the Soviet Lithuania. But once an opportunity to travel Lithuania with a movie camera and interview elders presented itself, he went on to become one of the most prominent figures of Lithuanian ‘poetic’ documentary, who changed the history of Lithuanian documentary cinema.
Documentary films at the time were made only with permission from the authorities and strictly censored. They had a very clear function: to portray nice and happy life in the Soviet Union. However, some of the Lithuanian filmmakers found this objective unacceptable. Their resourcefulness and perseverance gave birth to a phenomenon which became a distinctive part of the Lithuanian culture – ‘poetic’ documentaries. Films that didn’t look like video promotions and showed genuine people and their stories without the all-explaining voiceovers.
Verba’s most recognised films are the ones where he’d captured elderly people, who remember the Interwar Lithuania (before the Soviet occupation). Dreams of Centenarians is one of them. The cult of youth in the Soviet Union demanded young and handsome people everywhere, even in documentaries. Therefore it took Verba and his colleagues a lot of brain-racking to get a permission for this ‘out-of-liner’. It resulted in an application to make a film for the occasion of the upcoming Lenin’s centenary, which was supposed to be a look at how Lenin’s contemporaries were living now, in the Soviet Lithuania… Naturally, Lenin wasn’t even mentioned in the film itself. It should be noted that government representatives were not too impressed after the preview. Some were even appalled, 'How can you show such unattractive people?!'
Robertas Verba had one more ‘vice’. While every director in the Soviet times would receive a limited amount of film, Verba never spared it. For him it was all about hearing his subjects; he never rushed them, waiting for them to speak; every person, every story was worth of a rolling camera. These moments that take their time, as well as heroes that are at ease with the camera, are what make Verba’s films exceptional.